BY: Winstanley. R. Bankole. Johnson
In my humble view, the substance of the Report by the fifteen-man Special Investigations Committee (SIC) launched 24th August 2022 by HE President Bio to look into the August 10th Riots/Insurrections and to make recommendation therefrom to prevent a recurrence has left the SLPP government more exposed to questions and critical gaps than they could ever have imagined. Those questions ranged from why the government opted for a “SIC” instead of a “Judicial Commission of Inquiry”, to why even though most of the extra-judicial killings attributed as the handiworks of the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Lahai Lawrence Leema occoured well before or beyond the Committee’s specific deadline of 10th August, they still decided to rope him in and throw him under the bus. In between both questions have crystalized critical gaps in the said Report that should not only be of interest to Sierra Leoneans, but also to the international community at large, if they are really committed to ensuring that the democratic gains made in this country particularly over the last twenty years are not reversed.
Incidentally the government’s preference for a “SIC” as opposed to a Judicial Commission of Inquiry which would have had criminal connotations and possible indictments for anyone found culpable was because they very well knew that:
- Only their own people and party supporters would emerge as bearing the greatest responsibility for extra-judicial killings and other crimes against humanity before, during and after 10th August.
- The security forces have always been outrageously highhanded if not brutal in their reactions to quell demonstrations, especially those occurring within the main opposition APC strongholds.
That was why they opted instead a “SIC”, the outcomes of which they also know are not binding in law. And it is on account of such a lacuna that the Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Lahai Lawrence Leema chose to have treated the invite extended to him by the SIC to appear before them with disparaging levity and disregard.
But let’s open up with critiquing the compositions and remit of the Committee.
- First off the entire membership of that Committee is tethered to State House. That is to say even where they are not in the direct employ of President Bio, 80% of them belong to the category of people that he avowed in 2018 enjoy his trust because they either share ethno-regional affinity or work ethics.
- Second, even before setting up the SIC the establishment had orchestrated “daily pilgrimages” to State Lodge by the heads of most of the Civil Society Organizations, some of whom were ultimately included in it (and more on the fringes) including Traditional Leaders and Tribal Heads drawn from right across the country, not only to condemn the rioters, but also to presume them as guilty as was being alleged by the President.
In the event, the bulk of the report was a foregone conclusion as it encapsulated nearly precisely the frustrations and condemnations of the President as if it was he who had dictated what they should write to wit: That the riots were a “well-planned, well financed and well-orchestrated enterprise with a view to toppling the legitimate government of HE President Bio”.
Basically the entire Report read like a parody of 2. Tim. 4. 3 – 4 paraphrased: “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrines, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears…. For they will turn away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”.
So SIC Chairman Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq. and team gave President Bio his just desserts: Fictions of their vain imaginations about the 10th August 2022 riots masturbated as facts. Otherwise how come that though they were able to have ascertained that the riots were “….well-planned, well-financed and well-orchestrated…” they could not name a single individual as being culpable?
- Third the SIC largely strayed away from their specific remit deadline of 10th August 2022, and instead dwelt amply on adducing circumstantial evidences and indictments that are intended to either directly implicate the main opposition APC Party or require further in-depth investigations by another Committee that they recommended should be formed for that specific purpose.
- And even where they failed in adducing sufficient prosecutorial threshold against the APC Party leadership, the Report speculated and surmised that by their actions to have provided legal and other representation and reliefs for detainees, Lawyer Boniface and some senior APC Party members were by such associations with the detainees, also complicit and therefore guilty of the riots and insurrections. What however makes their speculations both illogical and preposterous is that should they hold, then the State and the Legal Aid Board could also be deemed co-conspirators and complicit in crimes committed by those they strive to defend and represent for misdemeanors or capital offenses because of indigence. Or should we stretch that to mean that medical personal treating wounded criminals could also be considered as accomplices to the crimes committed?
Whether by human or divine coincidence, the SIC Report contained many gaps that have exposed this government to ridicule and clearly indicating that the crafters did not do due diligence to their task as follows:
- First of all the release of the Report would appear premature, but deliberately timed to diffuse the recent barrage of accusations separately levied against this government by the European Union (EU), US State Department, the UK Government and the Amnesty International (AI) as being autocratic, schismatic, intolerant, barbaric and guilty of persistent harassments and detentions of opposition elements, apparent manipulations of State Institutions (Police, Judiciary, the Political Parties Regulations Commission, Statistics Sierra Leone and Electoral Commission Sierra Leone) against its citizens and opposition parties as well as of extra-judicial killings, seizures and unorthodox disposal of corpses of victims without the participation of immediate surviving family members.
Incidentally two separate Reports are said to have been documented by the SIC: One for public consumption and another apparently for Presidential eyes only. Even if that makes more sensible perusal, why the secrecy?
- It downplayed the reasons that climaxed those riots or insurrections to wit: economic hardship, high unemployment, food and shelter insecurity, marginalization, inequitable and selective dispensation of justice inter-alia, and even without observing the golden rule of audi alternem patten (hearing the other side), the SIC disingenuously sought solace in blaming “Adebayoh”, “PPP” and “rogue politicians” for exploiting the dire situations in the country and described it as an insurrection. That is, an insurrection during which not a single shot was reported to have been fired by the protesters or a single shotgun seized from them. As a matter of fact the only “weapon” of the “insurrectionists” was their chants that “Bio Must Go!!”, and in no part of the said Report did the SIC qualify or explain how the alleged “insurrectionists” intended for “Bio to go” and “when”.
- In the Lungi situation where the SIC alleged that the “insurrectionists” even attempted to remove the tarmac on the airstrip so as to prevent the plane bringing the President from abroad from landing, not a single evidence was adduced to show the extent of the damage caused the runway, nor was even a single Trowel or a single Shovel recovered from the “Crime Scene” to support their allegations; nor was any one arrested.
- Even though the main opposition APC Party was exempt from direct participation, the SIC could not conceal their zeal to stigmatize that party, so they proceeded to directly accuse the Party membership for “………failing to recognize that (the Bio) administration is a democratically elected government in place to be recognized and supported throughout the country…..”
- The Report recommended that though claims of extra-judicial killings post 10th August 2022 could not be ascertained (that is even with abundant evidences that the corpses of victims classified as “Terrorists” were initially seized, but later “upgraded” for State Funerals), a fresh “Investigations Committee” should be set up for the purpose including for investigating the death of Hassan Dumbuya (a.k.a. Evangelist Sampson). In that regard the SIC further urged affected family members to come forward with concrete evidence to substantiate same.
One interesting development arising from the SIC Report apart from their straying beyond their 10th August deadline remit is the ensuing altercation between the Committee Chair Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai Esq and the Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Lawrence Leema, especially on account of repeated references by the SIC to the itemized listing of riots and the attendant extra-judicial killings by the security sector also arising from those riots and demonstrations that include (a). APC Office Police crackdown of 14th Jan 2020 during which Leema was captured live on video strafing the entire APC Party Office/Hannah Benka-Coker axis with bullets (b). Pademba Road Prisons Riot 29th April 2020 for which former SLPP National Chair Lady Fatmatta Sawanneh commended his prompt arrival on scene since 05:00 hours that day (c). Lunsar Riots 29th April 2020 (d). Tombo Riots of 6th May 2020 (e). Makeni Riots of 17th July 2020 and (f). Mile 91 Riots of 12th April 2022.
Whether Leema ‘s hands are stained with the blood of innocent victims who died in all of those riots and disturbances so listed or not, he is on record to have repeatedly boasted on live Radio and TV shows to have the ability “…to crush anyone who dares to stand in the way of his SLPP government….”. So you can imagine public expectations as we await implementation of the SIC Chair’s recommendation for another “Investigative Committee” to look into deaths and disappearances of uncountable number persons arising from all other riots and disturbances since the SLPP government ascended power in April 2018, but more especially as they predate the 10th August 2022 riots
From those social media audio exchanges between the SIC Chair Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai and Lahai Lawrence Leema, the latter would appear to have taken a serious exception to the SIC inferences associating him with “impunity”, and is almost feeling as if the Party for which (in his own words) “….he has made so much sacrifices for is now conspiring against him and wants to tarnish his personal and family names and reputation by throwing him under the bus. From his agitated manner of speaking, and even though he hasn’t denied any of the allegations against him, Leema doesn’t look prepared to go down alone. But whatever betide, the public is waiting with baited breath to see whether President Bio will continue to retain him as a Minster of State even if for nothing else, but for his refusal to have supported and assisted the work of a Committee set up by our very President and Fountain of Honour after consultative Cabinet conclusion, and at whose singular wish and pleasure Leema was appointed to serve as Deputy Minister.
Personally I am cocksure that like myself, President Bio must have been very disappointed with the quality and contents of the final Report released by the SIC. It so lacked substance that to give it flesh, they had to lapse into vagaries. My hope however is that a key recommendation that another Investigative Committee be set up to look into all other killings that had taken place since this government assumed power in April 2018 will soon be constituted, because it is looking odd that the August 10th riots and insurrection would appear to have been wrongly prioritized.